Google could be made to hand over cash to 5.4 million British people if it loses a court case next year.
The tech firm has been accused of unlawfully harvesting a vast number of people’s information by bypassing privacy settings on Apple iPhone handsets.
If the case is successful, it may have to fork out ‘at least’ £1billion to the people affected – which works out to £185 each, although legal costs mean the payout people will receive is likely to be lower.
Richard Lloyd, former director of the consumer magazine Which, is the leader of a campaign group called Google You Owe Us that’s bringing the case against the tech behemoth.
The claim centres around allegations that Google placed cookies on people’s devices between June 2011 and February 2012.
These are small text files which give websites a way to track a user’s preferences and deliver personalised advertisements.
It’s alleged the cookies were put on iPhones running Safari, Apple’s web browser, which is designed to block them by default.
Lloyd told the BBC: ‘In all my years speaking up for consumers, I’ve rarely seen such a massive abuse of trust where so many people have no way to seek redress on their own.
‘Through this action, we will send a strong message to Google and other tech giants in Silicon Valley that we’re not afraid to fight back.’
He added: ‘At the moment there is a sense that Google and similar tech giants from Silicon Valley are behaving as if they are above the law, that they can’t be held to account in the courts in this country.’
You shouldn’t start planning how to spend the cash just yet, because Google is going to fight back and its legal team is likely to be the best money can buy.
A Google spokesman said: ‘This is not new – we have defended similar cases before. We don’t believe it has any merit and we will contest it.’
James Oldnall, a partner at the legal firm Mishcon de Reya which is acting for Mr Lloyd in the legal action, said: ‘Whilst the total sums made by Google from misusing this data are likely to be large, the damages suffered by each individual are relatively small.
‘A representative action such as this can be brought on behalf of all consumers and removes the need for individuals to bring an action, which they are unlikely to do.
‘In this way Google and other tech companies can be held to account in relation to any alleged breaches of UK data protection law.’
He said data had become an ‘important new currency’ and was valuable to large corporations, therefore consumers needed methods which could effectively police the rights given to them.
The case is reported to start next year and is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.
In a statement, Google You Owe Us wrote: ‘We believe that Google took millions of iPhone users’ personal information illegally in 2011 and 2012.
‘Google did this by bypassing default privacy settings on the iPhone’s Safari browser. This has been called ‘the Safari Workaround’. The workaround tracked internet browsing history, which Google then used to sell a targeted advertising service.
‘Google makes huge amounts of money from selling targeted advertising. In 2016, they earned $80 billion (£59.4 billion) from advertising alone.’